Rita Banerjee’s essay “Birth of Cool” on 9/11 and a generation coming of age and keeping its cool debuts in Hunger Mountain

18 years and 12 hours ago, Rita Banerjee was in the middle of a generation coming of age and witnessing 9/11. Her essay “Birth of Cool” captures how a generation of young people watched 9/11 and kept their cool.

An excerpt from “Birth of Cool,” which debuts in Hunger Mountain (Issue 23: Silence & Power) follows below:

Lauren played her Gibson on the phone for me. Voodoo Child. Learning Hendrix one blistered finger at a time. Stairway to Heaven. A poster of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant hung on her bedroom wall. Plant made love to the microphone in his too-tight jeans and denim jacket. His threads hadn’t been washed in decades. Neither had he. His hair was a total mess: wastrel, lion, drunken boat. His stance suggested everything hot and sticky and full of sweat. Plant sang as if his life depended on it. As if Page were a living siren: all dark curls and velvet. Soft everywhere. And cool where it mattered. Who was the devil and who the angel here? Their hair, their dishabille, their guitar riffs, their primal screams. What were Plant and Page selling to us, neo-nostalgic teens of the ’90s? Was it sex or something else? A taste of barely contained passion or total apathy? Whatever it was, it became the object of our attraction, our envy. Could a woman ever be so decadent? So illustrious? So free?

Lauren bent over her guitar and strummed, as if she were searching for an answer, as if the metallic edge of her Gibson could vibrate to the right pitch of cool. Her mom had immigrated from Hong Kong and her dad came from nowhere Zen, New Jersey. They spoke Cantonese on the phone together when they wanted to keep their secrets secret. But Lauren, always listening when she shouldn’t have, found out that her mother was pregnant anyway. Her father played in garage bands. He was born with an electric guitar. And so was she. When our history teacher went around the class and asked what kind of music do you listen to? I said, “Garbage,” and Lauren, “Hendrix.”

At her sweet sixteen, we sang “Landslide,” in an improvised, acoustic harmony. Her living room, surrounded by turn-of-the-century Qing chests and miniature lacquered paintings, felt like a recording studio that afternoon. Red cushions, low lights, and dark walnut furniture. A makeshift cabaret for a bunch of girls, barely legal. Gillian with her dark hair and half-smile, belting out the lyrics louder than anyone else. As if she were Stevie Nicks, herself, and knew the truth about pain. Her parents had divorced. Ours just seemed to fight all the time. So Gillian held the honor of being part mystic, part witch in our tribe.

At another sweet sixteen, Maddy sang, “I Will Survive,” and we girls danced primitive, like women, as if our lives depended on it. What heartaches had we experienced? What did we know about life at sixteen? Most of us hadn’t seriously been in love yet. With a man or a woman. We were just beginning to learn what it meant to come of age. To gaze into the future. To gaze back, an old crone, towards all the mistakes and milestones of our life. And what we saw, at sixteen, frightened us. We were experienced. We sang Fleetwood Mac, Hendrix, and Led Zeppelin together in Lauren’s living room, as if classic rock could keep the future at bay. As if these staged rebels in their infinite costumes, postures, and expressions of cool could save us. Save us from becoming adults. Save us from becoming women. Save us from a million taboos and stigmas and haunting forms of socialization.

“Darling go make it happen,” Lauren’s voice picked up tempo on the phone, “take the world in a love embrace.” Her guitar kept up the song’s dirty rhythm and twanged just when it mattered. I tried to impress her by playing back Joplin, Brubeck, Bach, Beethoven, Yann Tiersen, different time signatures, and chord progressions on the piano. In the ’90s, we spent so many afternoons like that. On the second line just for us: chatterboxes, klutzes, not yet agents of our lives. Girls. Our songs fused and interrogated one another. They hardly made sense. But that’s how we were. She and me. Latchkey kids. Part-time musicians. Like a true nature’s child. Our jams short-circuited every style in history.

To read the full essay, order a copy of Hunger Mountain or visit their website here.

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Poets House Reading feat. Rita Banerjee, James Ragan, & Finishing Line Press Authors – September 13, 7 pm

On Friday, September 13, from 7 pm – 10 pm, join Finishing Line Press at the Poets House  (10 River Terrace, New York, NY 10282 ) for a reading by FLP poets James Ragan, Rita Banerjee, Deborah Kahan Kolb, Stephanie Laterza, Danelle Lejeune, Mark A. Murphy, Dawn Marar, Katherine E. Schneider and others.

This event is free and open to the public.  The reading by Finishing Line Poets will be followed by an Open Mic portion.  Snacks and drinks will be provided.  This event is made possible through Poets House’s Literary Partners program. Poets House is an ADA accessible facility.  For more information, please visit Poets House or Finishing Line Press’s events page.

VCFA MFA in Writing & Publishing Faculty Reading feat. Rita Banerjee, Franky Cannon, and David Shields – September 11, 5:30 pm

Join the MFA in Writing & Publishing program in Café Anna as Vermont College of Fine Arts faculty members Rita Banerjee, Frances Cannon, and David Shields kick off our Fall 2019 Reading Series at 5:30 pm on Wednesday, September 11, 2019!

Like all of our readings, this events is free and open to the public. Featuring deliciously catered treats and a cash bar, it’s the perfect way to unwind during your mid-week.

About Our Readers:


VCFA MFA in Writing & Publishing faculty Rita BanerjeeRita Banerjee
 is the director and a faculty member of the MFA in Writing & Publishing program. She’s also the editor of CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos and Sourcebook for Creative Writing (C&R Press, 2018) and author of the poetry collection Echo in Four Beats(Finishing Line Press, 2018), which was named one of Book Riot’s “Must-Read Poetic Voices of Split This Rock 2018,” was nominated for the 2018 Kate Tufts Discovery Award, and was selected by Finishing Line Press as their 2018 nominee for the National Book Award in Poetry. She received her doctorate in Comparative Literature from Harvard University and her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Washington, and she is a recipient of a Vermont Studio Center Artist’s Grant, the Tom and Laurel Nebel Fellowship, and South Asia Initiative and Tata Grants.

VCFA MFA in Writing & Publishing faculty Frances CannonFrances Cannon is the author and illustrator of Walter Benjamin: Reimagined (MIT Press, 2019), the graphic memoir The Highs and Lows of Shapeshift Ma and Big-Little Frank(Gold Wake Press, 2017), a book of paintings and poetic translations, Tropicalia(Vagabond Press, 2016), and a book of poems and prints, Uranian Fruit (Honeybee Press, 2016). In addition to teaching with VCFA, she teaches creative writing at Champlain College and visual arts courses at the Shelburne Craft School.

VCFA MFA in Writing & Publishing faculty David ShieldsDavid Shields is the internationally bestselling author of twenty-two books, including Reality Hunger (named one of the best books of 2010 by more than thirty publications), The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead (New York Times bestseller), Black Planet(finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award), and Other People: Takes & Mistakes(NYTBR Editors’ Choice).

The film adaptation of I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel, in which Shields co-stars, was released by First Pond Entertainment in 2017; forthcoming in 2019 are two of Shields’s documentary films: LYNCH: A HISTORY and BURNING DOWN THE LOUVRE. His most recent books are Nobody Hates Trump More Than Trump: An Intervention (October 2018) and The Trouble With Men: Reflections on Sex, Love, Marriage, Porn, and Power (February 2019). He is a recipient of Guggenheim and NEA fellowships and a senior contributing editor of Conjunctions.

Learn more about our readers on VCFA’s MFA in Writing & Publishing Faculty Page.

Antidote Books presents Rita Banerjee, Emily Pettit, and Ruth Antoinette Rodriguez – August 23, 8 pm

Antidote Books in Putney, VT will be featuring writers Rita Banerjee, Emily Pettit, and Ruth Antoinette Rodriguez at their 2-year Anniversary Reading at  at 8 pm on Friday, August 23.  Stop by 120 Main Street in Putney, VT, and celebrate Antidote Books and these wonderful writers on August 23!

E M I L Y  P E T T I T is a poet, artist, editor, and teacher from Western, MA. She is the author of Blue Flame (Carnegie Mellon University Press) and Goat In The Snow (Birds LLC). Emily is an editor for Factory Hollow Press and jubilat.⁣

R I T A  B A N E R J E E is the Director of the MFA in Writing & Publishing program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts and the editor of CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos and Sourcebook for Creative Writing (C&R Press). She is the author of the poetry collection Echo in Four Beats (Finishing Line Press).⁣

R U T H  A N T O I N E T T E  R O D R I G U E Z is a Houston-born poet living in Vermont. Her poems have appeared in jubilat. She is an alumna of the Fine Arts Work Center, The Home School, and the Community of Writers. She co-founded Antidote Books in 2017 and serves as an associate chapbook editor at BOAAT Press.⁣

Applications Open for Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Summer in Paris Writing Retreat (July 17-22, 2019)!

The Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Summer in Paris Writing Retreat will take place from July 17-22, 2019.  Situated in heart of Paris’ Montparnasse neighborhood, amongst the fresh and popular open air markets and charming boutiques, the hotel stay is full of Parisian charm and our classes will take place in a beautiful Moroccan themed room that opens to a courtyard that can also be used by our writers.  Retreat activities will include craft of writing seminars and creative writing workshops, literary tours of Paris. If you’re serious about writing and want to soak in some exquisite French culture this summer, join our retreat in Paris!   The faculty includes award-winning writers Kazim Ali, Rita Banerjee, and Diana Norma Szokolyai.  Genres include poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. If you’d like to join us in Paris, France, please apply online at cww.submittable.com by June 15, 2019. More info: cww.nyc 

C&R Press Spontaneous Reading Party feat. Rita Banerjee – Concrete + Water, Brooklyn – June 8, 6:30 pm

Rita Banerjee will be reading from CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos & Sourcebook for Creative Writing (co-edited with Diana Norma Szokolyai, C&R Press, May 2018) at C&R Press’s Spontaneous Reading Party, which will be held Concrete + Water on Saturday, June 8, 2019.  The reading will take place from 6:30 pm – 10:00 pm.  Stop by to hear some great writers and luminaries!   To order a copy of CREDO, please visit C&R Press’s website here.

About CREDO:

CREDO. I believe. No other statement is so full of intent and subversion and power. A Credo is a call to arms. It is a declaration. A Credo is the act of an individual pushing back against society, against established stigmas, taboos, values, and norms. A Credo provokes. It desires change. A Credo is an artist or community challenging dogma, and putting oneself on the frontline. A Credo is art at risk. A Credo can be a marker of revolution. A Credo, is thus, the most calculating and simple form of a manifesto.

CREDO creates a bridge from the philosophical to the practical, presenting a triad of creative writing manifestos, essays on the craft of writing, and creative writing exercises. CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos and Sourcebook for Creative Writing is a raw look at what motivates authors today.

Contributing Authors:

Kazim Ali * Forrest Anderson *  Rita Banerjee * Lisa Marie Basile
Jaswinder Bolina * Stephanie Burt * Alexander Carrigan * Sam Cha
Melinda J. Combs * Thade Correa * Jeff Fearnside * Ariel Francisco
John Guzlowski * Rachael Hanel * Janine Harrison * Lindsay Illich
Douglas Charles Jackson * Caitlin Johnson * Christine Johnson-Duell * Jason Kapcala * Richard Kenney * Eva Langston * John Laue * Stuart Lishan * Ellaraine Lockie * Amy MacLennan * Kevin McLellan * E. Ce. Miller * Brenda Moguez * Peter Mountford * Nell Irvin Painter * Robert Pinsky * Kara Provost * Camille Rankine * Jessica Reidy * Amy Rutten * Elisabeth Sharp McKetta * David Shields * Lillian Ann Slugocki * Maya Sonenberg * Kathleen Spivack * Laura Steadham Smith * Molly Sutton Kiefer * Jade Sylvan * Anca L. Szilágyi * Diana Norma Szokolyai * Marilyn L. Taylor * Megan Jeanine Tilley * Suzanne Van Dam * Nicole Walker * Allyson Whipple * Shawn Wong * Caroll Yang * Matthew Zapruder

Minerva Rising “Dare to Speak” Contest Winning Chapbook Debuts

In 2017, Rita Banerjee served as the contest judge for Minerva Rising’s “Dare to Speak” Poetry Chapbook competition.  She selected Rebecca Connors‘s chapbook Split Map as the winner of the competition.  Split Map has been recently published by Minerva Rising in May 2019, and of the chapbook, Banerjee writes:

“Split Map is more than a collection of poems about coming-of-age, nostalgia, or childlike wonder, it is a journey through vulnerability into self-empowerment, and a story about how even in the most difficult of situations, female agency exists and reverberates, and how all women can dare to split maps, and thus, transform the world.”

— Rita Banerjee, author of Echo in Four Beats and CREDO, and Director, MFA in Writing & Publishing, Vermont College of Fine Arts

To order Rebecca Connors‘s Split Map, please visit Minerva Rising here.